Louis van Gaal believes Manchester United are underdogs for the derby at Old Trafford on Sunday. Manchester City are without first-team stars Sergio Aguero and David Silva for the 170th meeting between the two sides, but Van Gaal still thinks Manuel Pellegrini’s men are favorites:
“When you look at the facts they are first and we are third.
“There’s a goal difference, a point difference, and they are first so they are the favorite, I think.”
Van Gaal will not use this week’s eight-hour round trip to Moscow as an excuse — despite City staying at home to play Sevilla — but there is certainly a feeling that the trip east has given the visitors a slight disadvantage. To help matters, the Dutchman put his players through a session the day after the game when they landed in Manchester.
“I hope that we have recovered,” van Gaal said. “We have done everything to help the recovery for the players.
“We stayed in the hotel the next day, we had a smooth flight. After the flight we came to the AON Training Complex for recovery, we didn’t train too much today. We have to recover.
“It’s still a match at a high level and a big travel. We know that in advance and we have done that.”
This will be Van Gaal’s third derby since moving to Old Trafford. He suffered a 1-0 defeat in his first outing at the Etihad Stadium last November, but in the reverse fixture United ended a run of four successive derby defeats by beating City 4-2 at Old Trafford. Van Gaal is fully aware of the significance of the fixture to the city’s football fans, but he will not get caught up in the excitement of the occasion:
“You have to do your work more rationally and not emotionally.
“I think for the fans it’s very emotional. I live in a little village and there it is also the talk of the town. I think in Manchester it is more.
“We have to do our work and prepare our game. We have one day less so it’s more difficult.
“We have to do the meetings in shorter time, which is more difficult for the players, but that is what we have to do and we are doing and we have to hope we beat Manchester City.”
Van Gaal took every opportunity to play down the significance of the match at his pre-match press conference on Friday. Even the fact that United could end the weekend at the top of the table did not seem to excite the manager too much.
When asked if United could prove they were genuine title contenders with a win, van Gaal said:
“I don’t think that is now a big question.
“When we win (against) Manchester City we are first in the table (if Arsenal drop points to Everton) but that doesn’t mean we are the champion.
“The champion is only in May. It’s a big step when we win that’s true but you also have to continue. That’s also a big question.”
Wayne Rooney, the record scorer in this fixture, turns 30 on the eve of the match. The United and England captain said on Tuesday that he has “a lot of years” left in the game.
“That is dependent of the player,” van Gaal said when asked how long he thought Rooney could play on for.
“You cannot predict that. How he lives for his profession, how strong he is, how ambitious he is, it’s always dependent on a lot of factors. So we will have to see.”
Van Gaal believes all his players – not just Rooney – will be highly motivated for Sunday’s match.
“All the great players love such a challenge, not only Wayne, but also the other big players we have and that also counts for the big players of Manchester City. They love these matches.”
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